“I want to make a major announcement today,” he told supporters at a rally in Delaware, Ohio. “I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election if I win.”
Yet later in his speech, after recycling unfounded accusations that the presidential race will be rigged as a result of mass voter fraud, Trump said he would “of course” accept “a clear election result.”
His hesitation to say so at the final presidential debate, he said, was intended to leave open the possibility of a legal challenge if something goes awry.
“I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result,” Trump said. “And always I will follow and abide by all the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who have come before me, always. Bottom line, we're going to win.”
The Republican nominee took issue with moderator Chris Wallace asking him the “unprecedented” question of whether he would respect the outcome of the race and agree to a peaceful transfer of power, which he interpreted as a call to concede the race prematurely.
As many of his surrogates have done since Wednesday’s debate, Trump invoked the 2000 election as an example of the unforeseen circumstances that can come up in a presidential race.
“If Al Gore or George Bush had agreed three weeks before the election to concede the results and waived their right to a legal challenge or a recount, then there would be no Supreme Court case and no Gore v. Bush or Bush v. Gore,” he said. “And there have been numerous other cases. In effect, I'm being asked to waive centuries of legal precedent designed to protect the voters.”
Gore initially conceded the race and only agreed to a recount in Florida after an automatic recount of ballots showed he trailed Bush by much fewer votes in that state than the initial count reported.
Trump went on to cite a Pew report that found 24 million invalid or insignificant voter registrations in the U.S. as proof that fraud was rampant. Yet Pew and other elections experts note that these invalid registrations are caused by clerical error and outdated databases, and that cases of people actually casting ballots illegally are exceedingly rare.
In Trump’s estimation, despite the elaborate rigging in Hillary Clinton’s favor and the many polls showing him trailing the Democratic nominee, he won’t have to launch a legal challenge to the elections results because he will win.
“Always I will follow and abide by all of the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who have come before me,” he said. “Always. Bottom line, we're going to win. Bottom line, we're going to win. We're going to win. We're going to win so big. We're going to win so big.”